Agile Cobol on a mainframe? Who would have guessed?

Earlier this week I was at a large client that is designing a new, very complex, system that crosses every platform in their enterprise. They are taking an agile approach to this, and so far being very successful with experimentation to determine how all their divers systems and technologies can work together. Great stuff.

I was asked a couple of weeks ago to come and work with one of their “more traditional” teams, a team that supports old legacy code on a mainframe. And this has been very interesting!

The team consists of 9 people – one manager, 8 “doers” – who are solely responsible for the more mundane, yet highly important, tasks in this institution, primarily processing millions of transactions to clear financial instruments (checks, credit cards, loans, etc.).

Average age of this group is – I would guess – mid-50’s, with a few of them looking forward to retirement in the next couple of years.

Expecting some resistance to introducing agile into the group, I launched into my workshop, quickly describing the agile approach, tools, and desired outcomes. Imagine my surprise when at the first break they said “we already do this – not formally, but this is exactly how we work”! Very cool.

They have a very strong team culture and identity, they collaborate with many of the business functions in this institution already, break their work into small pieces (“stories”), and deliver as much as possible in 2-to-3 week initiatives. We sent most of the workshop talking about different techniques to enable to formalize their approach a little more, and then discussing how they can better communicate and cooperate with other, less mature teams around the company.

I learned a couple of things from this:

  • Don’t assume that people in an older, more traditional environment are not already leading the way from a process viewpoint
  • Allow people to use their innate leadership skills in changing the culture of the organization

This week has been a real treat, and I have already talked with the executives of this organization to let them know what hidden gems they have here. Let’s hope they use these people to the best advantage in encouraging adoption of agile, and leading some of the necessary change here!

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